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Microsoft Patents

Microsoft Retracts Patent 182

An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft has retracted their recent controversial patent application. The story was first brought to light by Slashdot on Saturday. Today, Jane Prey of Microsoft announced the retraction on the SIGCSE (Special Interest in Computer Science Education) mailing list. 'Many thanks to the members of the community that brought this to my attention — and here's the latest. The patent application was a mistake and one that should not have happened. To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application. Our sincere apologies to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.'"
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Microsoft Retracts Patent

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  • by chriss ( 26574 ) * <> on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:55PM (#17802204) Homepage

    I have a tendency to believe that humans can err, but are basically good. And even Microsoft consists of humans. So my first reaction was "Oh good, they are not as soulless as we believe, this was an honest mistake." That option had already been pointed out during the discussion on slashdot as a problem within their process:

    1. Microsoft collects suggestions from different sources
    2. Someone suggests the BlueJ functionality
    3. Someone extracts a list of features that should actually be implemented
    4. Some developer implements the function, not knowing where it came from
    5. At the end someone sees the function, attributed to the developer, does not see the BlueJ connection and suggests it for patent application, because this is the routine way to handle new ideas at Microsoft

    So, an honest mistake. But this being Microsoft it took me seconds to fall into conspiracy mode. How could they have such mistakes in their process, if they care about intellectual property? Was the mistake that they didn't hide it well? Did they simply try if they can get through with this? Can an entity that consists of basically good humans be not good in the end? (I'm afraid yes). So I still cannot decide if I can trust them or not, they seem to have lied too often in the past.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:58PM (#17802234)
    but what we all really want to know is when MS will start calling for the abolition of software patents altogether. It's not this specific application, it's Software patents as a whole that should never have happened.
  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:59PM (#17802242) include half a sentence describing the basics of the patent in the hyperlink?

    "The patent discussed on saturday" isn't significantly shorter than "the patent on a copied IDE feature" but contains more useful knowledge and less useless knowledge.
  • by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:02PM (#17802292) Homepage
    hey they have a lot of legitimate patents, like the one for the task scheduler (cron jobs). There is absolutely no prior art (UNIX) for that before MSFT came around. :-)

    Companies like MSFT/IBM/etc shouldn't get patents, not because they don't invent anything, but because they invent so little and patent so much.

    The hardware world scares me though. On the one had they collaborate as academics to share results, and on the other hand they patent everything in sight. No, you can't have an XOR gate, not yours!

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:03PM (#17802312)

    But this being Microsoft it took me seconds to fall into conspiracy mode.

    There's no "conspiracy" about it, this is now common among most big technology corporations: Throw buckets of patent applications at the Patent Office, and see what sticks. Often the "little people" they are ripping off don't have the means to fight it, and while the other big players know it's bullshit, they find it cheaper and quicker to just pay the license. It's not just Micorsoft, they all do it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:03PM (#17802326)
    So you know what happens now - MS issues a company-wide edict forbidding staff blog references to the possible origins of new functionality in their products.
  • by sholden ( 12227 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:05PM (#17802354) Homepage
    Except that three people are listed as the inventors on the patent application.

    So those three must have thought they'd invented something - otherwise they lied on that application.

    Or is it legal to put people's names on a patent application without asking them if what they did is actually an "invention"?

    The people at both 3 and 4 have to know they didn't "invent" anything and surely the people at 5 have to ask them at some point?

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:10PM (#17802438)
    I'd be a lot happier if the Empire's own minions had noticed the problem
    and withdrawn the patent BEFORE the outcry arose. As it is:

    "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." -- Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884)

    Modern addendum: "And the price of open software."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:19PM (#17802550)
    Did Microsoft employees lie about inventing this? Obviously, dishonesty in the workplace is a serious offense, and I'm sure Microsoft will severely punish employees who falsify invention claims. And no doubt the in-house patent attorneys failed to catch this serious error.... what's to become of them? Sounds like a few people might end up on the streets of Redmond.

    I mean Microsoft wouldn't just want to file bogus patents ... Right?

    Well, maybe Microsoft will now review all of the claims submitted by these bozos to make sure they didn't screw up before. Good thing these applications are all public - transparency is a critical part of the patent system.

  • Missing the point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:23PM (#17802626)
    Microsoft's apology changes nothing about the fact that all the original factors that caused this embarrassing mistake by them are still in play. It is very lucky that Microsoft's misbehaviour in the BlueJ example was quickly noticed, carefully documented and forcefully exposed by the BlueJ people themselves, but it is not and should not be an inventor's job to police the behaviour of big companies like Microsoft. The next time Microsoft misappropriates somebody else's invention, the problem is unlikely to be exposed so quickly. Microsoft should deal with the underlying factor behind this problem: Employees are still being encouraged to file as many patents as possible on the wrong assumption that it is a good indicator of employee merit. This is part of a deeper problem in the Microsoft executive which is fanatically pushing the meretricious concept of software patents around the world to places that have studied the idea and rejected it (EU) as harmful to the interests of small businesses.
  • by russ1337 ( 938915 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:37PM (#17802816)
    >>> "At Disney Internet Group, we actually receive an award if we develop something we can patent."

    I hope that 'award' is a share of the royalties and not a plastic Mickey Mouse statue. (They still have thousands left over from the 80's you know.)
  • Re:Mistake? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:53PM (#17803030) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I'm convinced the most plausible explanation for the *extremely* close replication of the BlueJ screens in the MSFT product is that the BlueJ source was ported to C#, probably using an automated tool.

    That's a bunch of nonsense. I mean, it's not impossible, but it's ridiculous to jump to that conclusion. There are tons of workalike tools in Unixland that look and behave just like the programs they're knocking off. Does that mean they were developed by porting the original program? I just made some documents that look amazingly like some other documents in-house (I'm a graphic artist, and I needed some documents very similar to some old ones but with new graphical elements, and couldn't find the originals.) By your argument, the most rational explanation for the existence of these documents is that I loaded up the originals and altered them. The new document is just so similar!

    Maybe the GNOME desktop is actually a port of Windows' source code, since it looks so much like Windows?

  • Good start, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dotdash ( 944083 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @03:31PM (#17803544)

    To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application. Our sincere apologies to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.
    What about listing BlueJ in Visual Studio credits?
  • by mary_will_grow ( 466638 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @03:56PM (#17803854)
    Move along... It was "just a mistake".

    What about the zillions of other patents just like this one that they apply for every day? Is the burden really on ME to make sure that Microsoft hasn't been attempting to patent stuff I've clearly got "prior art" for?

    This is terrible. Stop acting like "The system works". This is one example where a prior-art holder had the means to notice someone's faulty patent claim.

    I'm not even sure where the burden of proof should lie. When you hire a patent attorney to do a "prior art search", they just give you a pile of existing patents that matched some keywords. How do you do a _real_ prior art search, beyond just what has already been patented? Its not even possible. The system is so hosed that every patent that resulted from it should probably just be thrown out.

    I can't believe people are buying this "It was a mistake" B.S.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @04:18PM (#17804192) Homepage
    No, there's a fourth option: They didn't know what BlueJ was, not because of incompetence but because they deliberately didn't seek it out under the express instructions of the company patent lawyer.

    Since knowingly infringing a patent is treble damages, it's SOP for companies to tell their engineers not to do patent searches or other prior art searches before submitting patents or using ideas. The other half of this strategy is to patent as many things as possible. This way when you violate someone else's patent you can sit at the negotiating table and point all the patents of yours that they are also violating, the goal being to settle with a cross-licensing agreement that is more favorable to the party with the bigger pile of patents and with more key patents.

    That exact mechanism of treble damages may not apply in this particular case, but I still wouldn't be surprised if it was corporate policy to not try too hard to discover prior art.

    That a letter was found indicates that someone at MS did know about BlueJ, though, is probably what is actually getting them in trouble and causing them to drop the patent. Which just means they're going to enforce the policy of deliberate ignorance even more in the future.
  • by chrism238 ( 657741 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @06:51PM (#17806200)
    Actually Prof. Jane Prey is a very active member of the ACM Computer Science Education community (ACM-SIGCSE) who has, on many occassions, provided a very helpful interface between Microsoft and our academic community. I am completely unsurprised that it has been Jane who (must have) raised this delicate issue within Microsoft, overseen its resolution, and acted as a communication medium between the large company and our community. Your attempt at humor is somewat out of line.
  • by r_jensen11 ( 598210 ) on Monday January 29, 2007 @06:58PM (#17806304)
    I call BS on that, especially seeing that the submission on /. included two links to stories related and neither was a direct link to an application. Brought to light to Slashdot? Yes, that I can believe.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.